Maximizing a Small City Balcony

In our DC home, one of the first spaces that we updated was the patio… and it was friggin’ GLORIOUS.  When you live in a city, having your own outdoor oasis feels incredibly luxurious.  We built seating and hung outdoor lights, and we threw some fabulous parties there.

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Our Washington D.C. Outdoor Patio

Flash forward to our Italian home, and our tiny balcony is T.E.R.R.I.B.L.E.  Yes… it’s so bad that I needed to capitalize it AND add unnecessary periods for emphasis.  It’s dirty.  It has a lot of empty planters that were left here, half full of old soil, cigarette butts, and ashes.  It has never seen a power washer, and I guarantee it has been decades since it’s been used.  BUT it has a lot of potential.

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Italy Balcony (BEFORE)

WHY are there 11 planters in this tiny space?! I can’t even keep one plant alive, let alone however many plants it takes to fill 11 planters.    I spent an entire toddler nap time one day researching how to care for plants in the Mediterranean climate, and I discovered that I legit know nothing about plant care. And the stucco walls… does the camera properly show that you cannot even brush up against them without turning grey?

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Our Italian Balcony (BEFORE)

We chose our city apartment for its location.  We can walk to 10 groceries stores (and counting), 2 parks, a ton of shops (Zara included), several gyms including Mark’s Crossfit box, and numerous activities.  We don’t have a great view from our place though so we had to create a plan to make our small outdoor space into an area that our family wants to congregate.

OUR NAPLES, ITALY BALCONY PLAN

  1. CLEAN, CLEAN, CLEAN: I came out here the other day with an acid brush and a bucket of water and scrubbed the stucco walls.  They still don’t look new, but they do look a lot better than before!  Also, minimizing the amount of “stuff” that is on the balcony makes it feel cleaner.  I got rid of a few planters, put the two outdoor rugs into storage, and generally tidied up the area.
  2. PLANTS: Bringing a bit of nature to your city home can make a huge difference.  I found the photo below and loved how that tiny city balcony almost feels like a yard.  The privacy trellis and built-in planters are stunning, especially combined with the artificial turf and decking.  Since we live in Southern Italy, I’d love to plant a citrus tree and a few herbs to use in our kitchen.

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*In order to recreate this look, I found IKEA’s RUNNEN fake grass.  It clicks together easily and would be about $230 for the amount I need.  IKEA also carries fake decking, if I wanted to recreate the mixed decking and grass look above.  I also found this faux turf on Amazon that would be about $125.  We have a local hardware store called Leroy Merlin that also carries fake grass that is the EXACT size I need, but it requires glue to adhere to the ground and is $165.

3. PRIVACY: We live in a major city so privacy is never truly obtainable, but we can provide the feeling of intimacy and coziness.  We have a large iron trellis on each end of the balcony that is perfect for a plant privacy screen.  I love the one below that was created by zip-tying faux plants to a screen.  If you are a gifted gardener, you could also train a vining plant to do the same (but with less coverage of course).

4. LIGHTING: We already have 2 outdoor lights on our balcony that provide ample light for reading, eating, or frolicking about in the evening.  In our last home, we loved our overhead party lights, but they aren’t a feasible option in our current home due to the concrete balcony that is 12 feet above us.  We also considered roping similar lights to the front of the balcony, but the location of the outdoor plug (dead middle of the balcony against the building wall) would make plugging them in a bit of a feat.  THEN, I found these solar lights and got a stellar idea that I’m hoping will work!  Since I just want a bit of ambiance lighting, I thought I could use the solar lights and string them UNDERNEATH the IKEA RUNNEN decking so that the light will shine through the flooring cracks.  Hoping that works!

5. SEATING/ DECOR:  We already own this inexpensive IKEA patio set, and it’s perfect for our needs.  On a recent trip to IKEA, our daughter fell in love this outdoor kid’s chair that was in the “AS IS” section on sale so in an effort to keep the balcony uncluttered, that is all that we are putting on it.  Plants, flooring, and lighting all are decorations, but I do plan to DIY an all-weather wall hanging to place between our outdoor lights.  Recently, our dryer belt broke so I plan on using it as part of my DIY art. 🙂

I’m excited to get started and to share our finished space with you!!

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Marrakech with Kids

I’m not a travel blogger whatsoever, but I absolutely appreciate and rely on travel bloggers when I am planning trips.  My husband and I have backpacked together (pre-baby) across 4 continents, but we’ve never made it to Africa and were ecstatic to book our first trip to North Africa… to Marrakech, Morocco to be exact.  I have always been enamored with Morocco, at least with what I knew of it: beautiful decor and architecture and delicious food.  We spent just under one week in Marrakech, and here are just a few highlights of our short trip with our one year old daughter.

  1. Lodging:  All types of lodging is available in Marrakech in many different neighborhoods, and the prices reflect that.  The average hotel price is $50 per night, although luxury accommodations can be much, much more expensive.  We chose to rent a Riad (old traditional house around a central courtyard) through AirBnB in the Medina (old town) since we didn’t want to drive frequently or walk too far.  Our riad was called Riad Khalid (name of the owner), and it offered a pack n play and high chair for our daughter, which was PERFECT.  There was a fountain in the courtyard and stone steps going up 4 stories so we did have to watch our VERY mobile toddler closely.  Also, just a tip, if you rent out an entire Riad, I’d highly recommend bringing house slippers.  Riads somehow stay COLD even when the outside temperature is hot.

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    Esme enjoying one of our two rooftop patios in our Riad

  2. Language: Morocco’s official spoken language is Moroccan Arabic, although many people also speak French.  In the more touristy areas, English and Spanish are also quite common so getting around was fairly easy.
  3. Food: Food influences most of our travel choices so this is probably my biggest section for this trip.  Marrakesh has delicious, flavorful food filled with spices (but not spicy), and we found that our toddler actually LOVED eating from our plates.  A few restaurants even had children’s menus, although high chairs were a little hard to come by.  If you have a picky eater, lots of bread, french fries, and fruit smoothies are available too!

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    Dining at Nomad in the Medina

  • Tajines: extremely moist vegetables or meats that are slow cooked with steam in a Tajine pot.  My favorite was chicken lemon tajine, and my daughter yummed this up too!  PERFECT for babes with few teeth since everything was extremely tender and mushy.
  • Couscous: Small steamed balls of crushed durum wheat semolina with stew scooped on top.  Our daughter had vegetable couscous frequently, as a way to get some veggies into her little body.
  • Briouats: sweet or savory puff pastry.  My favorite was filled with meat, cheese, lemon, and pepper
  • Msemmen: Moroccan crepes/ our favorite breakfast treat
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Msemmen (Moroccan crepes)

*Food allergies: Our daughter is allergic to dairy and a few other ingredients, so we did pack some emergency food for her (and it came in handy- milk is hidden in many dishes).  Although there are tiny food stands throughout the medina, there is also a Carrefour supermarket near the medina that had dairy free milk, baby foods, etc for sale.

Kid Friendly Restaurant Recommendations: Nomad (Medina): more expensive than most places but offered a children’s menu and high chair// Le Jardin (Medina) 32, Sidi Abdelaziz, Souk El Jeld// Café des Epices (Rahba Qedima Square): owned by the same developer as Nomad & Le Jardin // La famille (Medina): vegetarian food// Un Dejeuner a Marrakech (Riad Zitioin Jdid, Medina) // Café Clock (Derb Chatouka, Kasbah): This is more of a cultural center than a restaurant, featuring concerts, storytellers, and more, but our daughter LOVED jamming to the live music on the rooftop during dinner.

  1. Getting Around: There are no carseat rules in Morocco, but we always choose to abide by U.S. child passenger safety laws when traveling.  Our AirBnB offered transport from the airport to the Riad so we needed to pack our carseat for that journey.  We chose to stay in a walkable area to minimize how much carseat lugging we would have to do.  For more distant sight-seeing, we chose to take a horse drawn carriage (agree on a price before using one) to many of the further sites, but bus travel was also a good option.

For walking around, we chose to use our baby carrier primarily since we spent a large amount of time in the souks.  Motorbikes, donkeys with carts, and bicycles fly through the souks so being aware of your surroundings was key.  Many Moroccan families were pushing strollers and baby wearing, and most of Marrakech (outside of the souks) was extremely stroller friendly.

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Babywearing everywhere!

  1. Things to Do: This is my no means a comprehensive list, but this was our “to do” list (I literally copied/ pasted this from my Google doc that I made for our trip).
  • Nice weather?
    • Jardin Majorelle (gardens that belong to Yves Saint Laurent): go first thing in the morning and have lunch there too
    • Le Jardin Secret
    • Caleche Ride (Horse drawn carriage) to Menara Gardens or the Majorelle Garden
    • Camel Ride in the Menara Gardens or the Palmeraie
    • Let kids run around Cyber Park
    • Stroll the Djemaa el Fna (Jamaa el Fna) Square: quiet in the day, lively at night (old town square)
    • Pool & Lunch at Beldi Country Club
  • Major Tourist Sites
    • Medersa Ben Youssef: once the largest Koranic school
    • Bahia Palace (Rue de la Bahia): a gift from the grand vizier to his favorite of his 80 concubines
    • Tumbas Saadies (mausoleum)
    • El Badii Palace
    • Souks are north of Djemaa El Fna* (Shopping)
    • Rahba Qedima Square Apothecaries
    • Museum de Marrakech
    • Koutoubia (12th century mosque): cannot enter it unless you are Muslim
  • Henna Tattoo (discuss price beforehand)
  • Rahba Qedima Square Apothecaries

*Again, this is NOT a comprehensive list… just the list that I put together for our trip.  As a side note, we could not find any children’s playgrounds within the Medina so parks and gardens were the only places that our daughter could *somewhat* left off some steam.

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We LOVED Majorelle Garden!

***HELPFUL TIPS***

  1. CELLPHONE DATA: When we first arrived to the airport, we purchased a SIM card from the company Orange (10 Euros for 10 GB) right next to the baggage area.  There are several of these companies.  Since we didn’t use a tour guide, we required data to get around and to find our way home each night.
  2. HELPFUL APPS: We used Google trips and TripAdvisor as our impromptu travel guides.  Loved the walking tours they directed us on AND the downloadable city maps!
  3. RELAXED PARENTS: Traveling with kids can be more exhausting than relaxing.  Since we didn’t stay at a resort in Marrakech (and traveled during one of their colder weeks in the winter), we couldn’t enjoy some of the relaxing outdoor activities.  We chose to take turns during nap time to treat ourselves to a spa experience at a nearby Hamman.  There are also local hammans that are family friendly and much cheaper.  If you stay in the Medina like us but want a more restful day, the Beldi Country Club had a deal that if you ate lunch there, you could enjoy their pools (HEATED) for free.  If relaxing means a bottle of wine, please know that alcohol is not widely available so definitely ask your Riad owner about it in advance.  A hotel/ resort will obviously be a different experience.
  4. RUG SHOPPING: Before arriving I researched the types of Moroccan rugs, as well as how to haggle (I’m terrible at it despite everyone’s best tips) and tips for buying a rug (This entire blog is incredibly helpful in planning a trip to Morocco.).  I purchased three rugs from “Vintage Carpets” (29 Zaouiat Lahdar Kaat, Benahid 40030 Marrakech), which is a red door without any signage, and is the wholesale warehouse for the more upscale shop Les Nomades around the corner.  They will ship your rugs for you or wrap them in a manner that makes them easy to pack for your return flight.  They were also willing to go the cheapest, compared to other shops.
  5. BRINGING BACK FINDS: Many people use the Moroccan Post Office to ship back their finds, or they pack everything in a large container and pay for an oversized bag to bring it back on the plane.  We packed all of our clothing in our carry-ons and brought 2 empty bags with us (one hard-shelled suitcase and a huge empty duffel bag inside it).  We were able to fit 3 rugs, an ottoman, a pillow, and 2 rattan animal heads inside those bags for our return flight so we ended up not having to pay extra for luggage.
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We loved Morocco!

Hope this helps others out that are heading to Morocco with little ones!  I hope to hear all about your travels!

 

Comparison of Best Travel Strollers

I don’t normally blog about my travels or about baby gear, but I’ve had the toughest time finding a comprehensive comparison of travel strollers for my daughter.  The closest I’ve found is this video by Magic Beans and this guide by Where’s Sharon.  However, I felt they were missing some major contenders in the travel stroller department.  We consider ourselves minimalists so we’d like one stroller that can be used daily as well as for travel, is long lasting, and versatile.  Every family has different needs for their strollers so if your needs align with mine, you might find this comparison helpful.

MY NEEDS: We live in a large city and travel once or twice per month so I am looking for a compact stroller that is easy to store in our home and can be stowed in the overhead bin of an airplane.  Our current City Mini was a GREAT stroller when we lived in downtown Washington DC, but it’s too large to enter our building elevator in our current home.  I need a LARGE basket for groceries, flexibility to use it with a newborn (safely) or toddler, one hand easy fold, and narrow enough to fit in our building elevator (less than 20″ wide).  I would LIKE it to have accessories available, like a child food tray, drink holder, and buggy board to turn it into a stroller for 2.  I’d also like for it to include an adjustable footrest to make it more comfortable for on-the-go naps.  I’m only including strollers that recline.  Therefore, popular mini strollers, like the GB Pockit and Besrey Airplane Stroller, have been excluded.  

ZOE XLC ($249.99, Frequent Sales: $99.99-$149.99)

Starting with the least expensive stroller, by far, the ZOE XLC cannot be used with car seats and has no newborn kit available.  This stroller is only 17″ wide though and can fit in the overhead compartment of most airlines.  It comes with harness comfort pads and a coordinating 4-panel canopy.  You can separately purchase the parent console, travel backpack & storage bag, a single or double carry strap, rain and snow weather covers, deluxe comfort pads/ pillows, additional canopies, and a child console is coming soon.  Although its fold appears simple, it does require two hands.

*This company also makes a ZOE XL1 that has fabulous additional accessories and features, although it does not have my desired adjustable foot rest nor a compact close that can fit in the overhead of an airplane.

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Mountain Buggy Nano ($249.99, although I’ve seen it for $199.99 on sale)

The Mountain Buggy Nano would possibly be my favorite if it were narrow enough to fit in my building’s elevator (it’s 22″ wide).  With an easy recline, adjustable footrest, ability to add most carseats without purchasing a separate adaptor, and the numerous optional accessories, it is a standout for its price point.  It comes with the frame, seat fabric, sun canopy with flick out mesh visor, a built-in shoulder carry strap, and a custom fit satchel for travel convenience.  Additionally, you can purchase the newborn cocoon (bassinet), all weather covers, grab bar and food tray, a free rider stroller board (for older siblings), and parent console bag.  It does require two hands to fold it.

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GB QBit+ (Starting at $250)

The GB QBit+ is from the same German company that developed the tiny Pockit stroller.  It is small enough to be stowed in the overhead of many airplanes. It features a one-hand close and comes with the belly bar.  Additionally, you can purchase car seat adapters (for Cybex or GB seats), bassinet (“cot to go”), footmuff, parasol, and drink holder.

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Silver Cross Jet ($349)

This stroller claims to fit in the overhead bin of all airplanes.  I’m uncertain of its actual dimensions since the website lists them differently three times.  It can recline fully flat and has an adjustable footrest.  It requires both hands to fold and has a smaller basket, but the belly bar ingeniously turns into the handle to pull it through airports.  A car seat adapter can be purchased separately for use with Maxi-Cosi, Nuna, and Cybex car seats.

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UPPAbaby MINU ($399.99)

The UPPAbaby MINU is a little too wide for my needs, but it’s a new travel stroller option that really impressed me.  It won’t fit in the overhead compartment of most airlines, but its large storage basket and additional storage pocket makes it a standout for everyday use.  It comes with a built-in carry handle and shoulder strap, as well as a storage bag.  Additionally, you can purchase a bassinet kit, car seat adapters (for MESA, Maxi-Cosi, Nuna, and Cyber only), weather shields, and parent console and cup holders.  The impressive one hand fold of this stroller is worth checking out on YouTube.

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BabyZen Yoyo ($499+)

The BabyZen Yoyo is incredibly popular with many globetrotters, and I can absolutely see why.  It boasts one handed folding, unfolding, and steering, as well as the ability to fit in most airline’s overhead bins.  It includes a shoulder carrying strap, a storage pouch, and rain cover. The accessories are on the pricier side so it has the potential to cost quite a bit.  You can purchase a rolling bag that attaches to the stroller without tipping it backwards, a board for older siblings to ride along, a coordinating click-in car seat, travel bag, cup holders, parasols, mosquito nets, car seat adapters (for a few select car seats), and a foot muff.  It does not have an adjustable foot rest, although at the end of this blog there’s a resource that shares hacks for many travel strollers, including adding an adjustable foot rest to this one.

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Mima Ziga ($599)

The Mima Ziga is a luxury travel stroller that boasts great reviews for its suspension and gentle ride.  It also has a large basket and high end fabric, along with the following option accessories: bassinet, car seat adapters (for Maxi Cosi, Nuna, Cybex, and UPPAbaby seats), footmuff, cup holder, belly bar, weather cover, and mosquito net.  The one hand close and open is one of the smoothest in the group, but I’m surprised it is lacking an adjustable footrest at this price point.  It can fit in the overhead bin of many airplanes, although it’s a bit heavier than other options.

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Cybex Mios (Starting at $649.95)

The Cybex Mios is a luxury travel stroller with the price to match.  It’s much larger than the other stroller previously featured and would not fit in the overhead compartment of an airplane.  It does, however, have many features that only come in much larger strollers, such as the reversible seat unit.  It has a one-hand close, as well as a large storage basket.  It comes with the Mios colour pack and comfort inlay, car seat adaptors, cup holder and raincover.  For an additional cost, you can purchase a bassinet to use it from birth, snack tray, parasol, mosquito net, and foot muffs.

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On Amazon, I’ve discovered that many companies sell equipment to “hack” many of these travel strollers, providing additional features outside of the manufacturer.  Mommy Simply is a website that shares numerous hacks and products to improve the function of your stroller, although there could be repercussions from using non-manufacturer approved add-ons.  

COMPARISON CHART

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*Honorable mentions*

Diono Traverze ($249.99): Compact, reclinable stroller that has a hidden luggage handle to pull through the airport.  Many reviews complained about a shallow seat and difficulty stearing on rough surfaces.

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Jovial Portable Foldable Stroller ($117): This compact stroller folds down to a tiny 10.6″ x 22″ x 18.9″ and weighs only 16 lbs.  The reviews describe the quality as poor, and it only holds up to a 35 lbs toddler.  That being said the price is great for such a compact, feature loaded stroller.

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Kolcraft Cloud Plus ($68):  I’m going to call this stroller the grocery stroller.  If I had space for a stroller JUST for grocery shopping, I’d buy this one up.  For the price, features (gloriously large basket, parent tray, AND child tray), and a one-hand close, this little stroller is impressive.  Looking at the wheels, I can tell that it wouldn’t hold up well on the cobblestone streets of Italy (where I live), and it folds a bit larger than I’d prefer (12″x18″x34″).  There are complaints about the wheels, opening/closing mechanism, and short lifespan of the stroller.

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Baby Jogger City Tour ($200): I’ve actually used this little 14 lb stroller that can hold up to a 45 lb child.  It drives well, which is expected of a Baby Jogger product, but the seat was far too shallow for my liking.  That being said, it’s a well made travel stroller, featuring plenty of additional accessories.

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I’d love to hear from anyone that has any of these strollers and has an opinion on them.  I’m still deciding on which I prefer since no stroller seems to have everything that I want.  I’d also love to hear if you recommend a stroller that’s not on this list.  Hopefully, this compilation helps someone else deciding.

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The Look for Less: Animal Rugs

I’ve been teaching Esme all of the animals and their sounds, and I think it’s carried over into my design taste.  😛  All of a sudden, I’m obsessed with bizarre, cheeky faux animal hides.  I actually need a rug for our third bedroom and found this adorable option at Anthropologie.  I love how it has a layered look, and I would have never thought to put a funky faux hide over a striped rug.  OBSESSED… but that price tag…

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Martine Rug from Anthropologie ($598)

I went on a search for the best cheeky “faux fur hides” that I could find at a reasonable price, and I had to share my findings.  These would look adorable in a kids’ bedroom, playroom, bathroom, etc.  Really, they’re not just for kids, but that’s where my brain is lately.

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Hand Embroidered Safari Rug by Anthropologie ($186)

How cute would these be in front of a sink in the bathroom or layered on a jute or striped rug in a large room?! On an unrelated note, I’ve had to google the sounds that most non-farm animals make recently… like the zebra.  My daughter points to her plastic animals and wants to hear their sounds, and I never thought I’d be googling youtube videos of giraffe and zebra noises.  😛

 

These tiger-shaped rugs are from Urban Outfitters and are only $49!  These are tiny enough that they might even look cute draped on the back of a couch or chair.

 

These tiger rugs ($49) are actually bath mats from Urban Outfitters, but I feel like they would be adorable in a toy room too.  They’re also an absolute STEAL compared to the zebra bathmats ($88) by Jonathan Adler (below).

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I think I’m leaning towards one of the cheaper Urban Outfitters rugs layered on top of an inexpensive, washable rug like this one, which comes in several funky, restrained colors.   I made a few combinations with that rug and the ones above, and now I just have to figure out which combo I like best.

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Which do you like best?

Creating a Mindful and Respectful Play Area

I’m not a parenting expert.  I have one child and am figuring out how to raise her without messing her up too badly.  My only prior experience is babysitting in high school (which I did a crap job of), working in an infant care facility (but I mainly just snuggled, fed, and changed them), and a decade as a public school teacher (with a few degrees that go along with that).  I considered what some of my best students had in common:   empathetic, creative, and responsible.  I’m certain that all of these children had very different upbringings, but I researched different parenting methods that could help me develop those traits in my daughter and discovered a few of my favorite parenting/ education styles: Montessori, Waldorf, and RIE.  If you’re interested in reading a brief overview of the styles, this is a great place to begin.

This all relates to this post because we decided to give our daughter a play space for Christmas.  Trying to make intentional parenting choices, I researched numerous play spaces and decided I wanted a play space that was both mindful and respectful of my daughter’s needs, development, interests, etc.  I’m going to warn that I got a little hyperlink happy in this post.  Since we’re still in the planning stages, I wanted to remember key information so I linked A LOT of ideas and products.

Before creating the play area, I wrote down a list of goals that I had for the space.

  1. Minimalistic: I want a toy shelf with space for 1-2 toys/ manipulatives on each shelf and perhaps a few spots for boxes to hold blocks or balls.  *We have more toys than will fit on the shelf, but I plan to alternate them to keep my daughter from getting overwhelmed by choice or clutter.  Additionally, I like this approach as it will help me to easily see which toys spark my daughter’s curiosity or interests more.

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2. Orderly: According to the Montessori philosophy, children have a “sensitive period” when they are attracted to and able to learn about something.  From birth until about age 5 is a child’s sensitive period for order, but it peaks in early toddlerhood.  Young children love routine and repetition, and I’d like my play space to support this sensitive period by giving a specific, predictable spot for everything.

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Orderly Toy Storage

3.  Thoughtful Toy and Activity Selection:  I want to be sure to include toys that develop fine motor AND gross motor skills, art and music interests, books, and open-ended items for creative play. *I only recently started researching active vs passive toys, and the argument for passive toys is so interesting to me.  I had never even considered the concept before!

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Open-Ended Toys

4. Safe, Open Space:  In the RIE philosophy, children require a “YES” space where they are free to play without constantly being interrupted (often for safety concerns).  It is best to keep the space relatively small (one child-proofed room or a section of one room) to help the child maintain focus and foster independent play.  That being said, we also believe in allowing our daughter to discover her own boundaries and abilities.  We own a Pikler Triangle that will be brought into the “YES space” when we are able to observe our daughter playing (since it can be “dangerous”).  It is just one way to give our daughter an opportunity to learn how her body can move and climb all on her own!

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Lily & River Pikler Triangle with Slide Attachment

5. Include Nature: Nature is a large part of the Waldorf philosophy, as it reveals our kinship with all living things and teaches them about the rhythm of life.  We chose a play space with large, low windows so our daughter has the freedom to observe the outdoors and natural changes of the world.  Her play space is also accessible for our two cats so she is able to interact and observe them.  We would like to include a few small edible herb plants that she can help care for, as well, but that won’t be harmful to the cats that share the space.

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6. Respectful of Parents’ and Child’s Needs: According to the Montessori philosophy, the job of a child is to play.  The job of the parent is… well, we have to do a million things everyday.  I like to observe my daughter as she plays, but I also need to prep our meals, pay bills online, clean the house, write blog posts (okay, that’s just for fun), etc.  For this reason, we decided to put the play space (and all toy storage) in our living room, where we have already child-proofed everything, we can watch our daughter carefully, relax as a family, and close it off to the rest of the house easily.

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Our Current Living Room Set-Up

I’m so excited to start getting everything prepared for this project!  We’re still deciding if we want to have it ready for Esme on the evening of Christmas Eve so she wakes up to the new space of if we’ll set it up earlier and do a small stocking for her instead.  I’ll update though!

Our Family’s Favorite Breakfast “Cake”

Breakfast “cake” has become a weekly morning staple in our household.  We love that it’s healthy, versatile, easy for travel, and quick to make!  This recipe is based on Jamie Eason’s pumpkin protein bar recipe, which is also a favorite of ours, but we changed it up a bit to fit the needs of our growing daughter.  My favorite part of all is that I can throw all of the ingredients into a high powered mixer (ours is a Vitamix), and there’s no need to dirty up multiple bowls.

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Ingredients

2.5 cups raw oats

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1 1/2 tsp ground ginger

2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

2 whole eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 15 oz can raw pumpkin

1/2 cup liquid: water/ whole milk unsweetened almond milk/ oat milk/ etc.

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Optional additions:

3-4 whole carrots

1/2 large zucchini

1/2 apple

handful of walnuts (be aware of new allergen recommendations)

small handful of spinach or a few tsps of spinach powder 

2-3 Tbsp of butter/ coconut oil/ nut butter
2 scoops of protein powder (add only 2 cups of oats in this case and a bit more liquid)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Add the first 6 ingredients into your blender and blend until the oats turn into a flour consistency.
  3. Add the other ingredients and pulse until everything is thoroughly mixed together.
  4. Spread batter into a cake pan and bake for 30 minutes.  *You can also make muffins or baked donuts with this batter, but cook time will vary.

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I make a ton of different variations on this recipe, which is why there are so many different “options.”  So far, my daughter’s favorite has pumpkin, carrots, zucchini, and a bit of spinach powder in it.  She’s still at a young enough age where she doesn’t require sweetener in her food.  Pumpkin is plenty sweet for her taste buds!  If you’re making this for older kids, they might prefer some honey or maple syrup added to sweeten it up a bit.  This recipe is perfect for baby led weaning (BLW), but I would personally cut the bars into long, thin, finger-like pieces and bake them a little longer so they’re less moist.  Hope other families enjoy them as much as we do!

Cat Litter Solution

Can we talk about cat litter?  Anyone that has a cat knows it’s one of the most annoying aspects of cat ownership (along with the 3 AM “song of my people” cry that most cats enjoy).  We have had our two cats Romulus and Remus for over 9 years now.  We adopted them when we lived in Japan, and they have been with us through every move and transition.  Our daughter LOVES them (despite her allergies), and unfortunately, she also LOVES their food bowls, water bowls, and litter pans.  We used to keep the litter in a little nook in our hallway, but now that we have a toddler that thinks litter boxes are the ultimate sandboxes (cue gagging noise), we needed to come up with a solution that kept the litter contained and hidden.

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Window Nook for Litter (that refrigerator on the right is temporary)

The ONE spot for their litter is in the kitchen, which is normally the LAST place on Earth I’d put litter.  Our kitchen is HUGE though and has a step that separates the food prep/ cooking area (farrrr on the other side) and the eating area (which we don’t use for eating because we love our dining room).  This little window nook is the perfect width & depth for the litter boxes, AND the room has a door on it so it can be closed off while our daughter is awake (no worries, the cats are super well-trained and meow outside the kitchen door to be let in).  I’m rather meticulous when it comes to keeping a clean home though, and open top litter pans in the kitchen are not ideal.  I had to find a way to contain the sights and smells of the litter boxes.  Enter: Amazon.

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Faux Leather Storage Bench ($49.99)

We are pretty committed to the litter system that we use, which keeps litter off of the ground and minimizes smells SO well.  Unfortunately, the pans are a bit larger than standard cat boxes; therefore, many IKEA hacks for hiding litter and special order products wouldn’t work for our boxes.  I considered having a custom windowseat built with a small opening for the cats to enter and exit their boxes.  Wood is pretty expensive in Italy though.  I found an inexpensive storage bench on Amazon that was the EXACT length of the window nook and almost the exact width needed for the litter boxes (actually about 1/4 inch too small, but the litter pans are plastic and can bend that amount).  I also purchased this cat door, although in hind sight I could have just cut a hole and finished it with decorative duct tape.

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To complete this hack, I needed: a pencil, a utility knife, a drill (since my saws are all in storage in America), and duct tape.  First, I placed the cut-out stencil in the desired location (high enough so the cats can enter and exit their boxes easily) and traced around it.  Then, I used a utility knife to slice the fabric.  If I had a saw, I would recommend that to cut out the circle, but I had to make do with what I had… so I used my drill to drill SEVERAL tiny holes extremely close together along the perimeter until I could use my hand to remove the cut-out.  Then, I “finished” the edges by taping duct tape around the rough portions and finally added the cat door.

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Obviously, my daughter was EXTREMELY interested in the bench (since it was new and had a fun plastic cat head on it) so I didn’t put the litter in it for a while.  I just put it in its spot and let her explore it.  She soon decided it was boring, which was the perfect opportunity to add the litter pans and introduce the cats to it.

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Some cats have difficulty with new litter box situations so I decided to leave the lid off of the bench for a couple of days until the cats were used to the set-up.  Then, I put the lid back on, and they were completely fine with using it.  So much cheaper than a custom window seat, but it works perfectly to hide their litter!

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The best part is that our daughter doesn’t seem the slightest interested in the bench so I’m planning on moving it out of the kitchen and into the living room, where GUESS WHAT!!!  There is another window nook that is EXACTLY this size.  Fate??

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I’m considering making another one for the cats’ food and water since our daughter IS still very much interested in those.  I can also picture this as a great kitty hideaway for cats that crave some privacy, just add a cozy blanket or pillow inside!  The possibilities are endless.

Bedroom Update: Japanese Obi Pillow and Magic Lights

I love a dramatic master bedroom, but ours has become a bit neglected in our new home.  It’s just a collection of furniture from our old home thrown together half-heartedly: a cream rug, white bedding, black (thrifted and hand-me-down) furniture, and our gray DIY upholstered headboard.  We sold all of our lamps to the people that bought our old home, so we also were lacking lighting in the master bedroom.  I decided to do two quick, little updates during Esme’s nap time the other day  and was able to add a bit more personality to the space (although it still has a long way to go).

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First, I wanted throw pillows with a more dramatic color scheme.  I looked through my craft stash for fabric to sew some new pillow covers and realized I had a Japanese obi (the sash used for traditional Japanese attire) that I had bought at a thrift store when we lived in Japan.  You can find them on eBay and Etsy too.  I know my husband gets annoyed with the 500 throw pillows that I love on our bed so I decided to do something much simpler this time: a single long lumbar pillow.  These are becoming more and more popular, but they often have a hefty price tag to match their trendiness (like the $195 pillow shown below from The Citizenry).

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I had two extra bed pillows that we bought on sale one year for $6 each (and never used because it turns out that $6 pillows are ridiculously uncomfortable), so I decided to repurpose the stuffing from them for my new lumbar pillow.  I believe I spent around 600 yen (~$5-6) on the obi so the total cost for me was under $20.

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To make the pillow, I cut the obi to the length that I wanted (it was already two sided), fill it with stuffing, and whip stitched the edge closed.  Easy peasy.  The same could easily be done with a table runner.  This one or this one from Target would look incredible as a long lumbar pillow.

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My favorite thing about the pillow is that the fabric is double-sided.  If I decide that the bold orange, black, white, and gold design is too much in our bedroom, I can flip it over for a more subtle all black lumbar pillow.  Do you see the subtle gold stripe on one side?  I COULD DIE.  Love it!  I also love that this particular fabric reminds us of the wonderful time we spent living in Japan as newlyweds.

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We also needed lighting in the bedroom, and lamps are surprisingly expensive in Italy.  Even IKEA sells their lamps at a higher price here than in the U.S.  If I invested in expensive lamps here, I unfortunately couldn’t use them when we return to the U.S. since the voltage is different.   I decided to DIY some bedside lighting that could be used when we return to the States, thanks to the power supply being batteries.  Brooke Christen from Nesting with Grace actually came up with this game changing idea so I won’t go too into the “how” of it.  Head over to her site if you want great tips and tricks to do it yourself.  Basically though, it’s a way to add “electricity” to a sconce without spending the money to hardwire it.

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Magic Light Supplies

I found these lights on Amazon, although I just realized that the price has increased quite a bit since I purchased them.  The glass portion (shown on Amazon) won’t fit on the light with this trick, which was just fine for me since two of the glass pieces arrived broken.  For the magic light trick to work on this particular light, I removed the bulb holder (shown below).  It just created a flatter surface and allowed my Quick Light disk to remain hidden in the sconce.

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In her post, Brooke shares three different ways to attach the Quick Lite to the interior of the sconce, and I chose industrial strength velcro.  I also used the velcro to help attach the light to the wall since it’s a concrete wall with a bit of plaster on top of it.

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I am LOVING the outcome.  These lights instantly improved the look of our bedroom.

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My husband came home and instantly commented on them.  That’s a big deal since he’s so used to coming home to multiple changes that he rarely remarks on them anymore.  He said he felt like our bedroom was more “luxe” now.  It still needs a lot of work: artwork, bedside decor, etc., but it is a huge improvement.

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I think my favorite thing of all is that these lights can be controlled with a remote.  This remote is FANCY.  You can dim the lights or put them on a timer.  It was such an easy nap time makeover that I’m considering adding these “magic lights” to other rooms in the house.  It was a super successful nap time over here!

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Nursery Plans: Glam Safari

Can I still even call this room a nursery now that Esme is technically a toddler?  Before moving to Italy, we sold Esme’s mini crib and purchased a full size convertible crib off of Craigslist.  BEST CHOICE EVER.  Esme has grown so fast, and we saved ourselves a ton of money buying her furniture in America before arriving.  Her room is long and narrow with a small area in the back that is a bit quirky.  It’s perfect for a nursery, and our current furniture couldn’t have fit better in the space.

This is the quirky area in the back.  Ignore the artwork.  There’s a huge hole in the wall  where the water access point is, and I covered it with these frames.  Eventually, I’m going to do some DIY art for them.  There’s a glass enclosed storage closet that we are currently using for our personal storage.  Eventually we might use it for toys.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t use it as a clothing closet for Esme because there is no space for hanging clothing (tiled walls plus built-in wooden shelves).  We purchased a wardrobe from IKEA that perfectly fits in this odd little nook next to the window (and across from the storage closet).  I have big plans for DIY handles for it, but it’s a better solution for our little one since the clothes are hung low in it and are accessible for her.  She loves picking out her own clothing!

The rug in this room is one of my favorite eBay finds.  It has almost every color in it.  You can see all of the gorgeous colors in it in this throwback image.  It used to be in our dining room in our home in DC.  A lot of the accents in her room are the pale blue color in the rug, but green is one of my favorite colors so I plan on accenting it too.

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I’d like to make an accent wall behind the crib that highlights the green color and brings in some natural elements.  I purchased this wall mural from Amazon that I cannot wait to install in her room.  Here is my grand plan.

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I have no idea what style it is: lots of rattan, animals, and glam elements.  Maybe, glam safari?  I’m guessing that’s not a legit thing, but now it is!  I wanted some elements that were playful and others that would grow with her.  For example, I already added this fun green mirror.

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It’s from IKEA and has a tiny built-in shelf in it.  I put her toothbrush, comb, and hair brush in it, and she uses it everyday to learn about self-care.  I’m trying to include as many aspects as possible in her room that allow her to learn independence.  For example, I keep all of her pajamas in her bottom drawer, and after her evening bath I ask her to help me open the drawer and get her PJs.  It’s a small thing that allows her to participate in her own care.  She absolutely LOVES it.  I’d love to hear any other ideas you have to help me incorporate more ways to encourage her independence and ownership in her room!  My only setback is that the walls are plaster so anchoring furniture well to the wall is challenging and requires trial and error.  You don’t want to see the number of holes behind the dresser and closet!

Moving Day and Home Tour

After 3 months in a hotel with a mobile baby and 2 cats, we finally have a move in date!  In 4 short days, we will be moving into our new place and reuniting with all of our belongings.  Esme will finally get to sleep in her crib, and we will finally get to sleep on our beloved mattress.  I am so excited.  The house hunting in Naples was more stressful and required much more time than we anticipated.  We chose a home in the area of downtown Naples that we wanted to live, although it’s not as full of character as many others that we saw.  It was tough to balance pros and cons.

We were shown 3 story mansions, penthouse lofts with ocean views and rooftop terraces, historic apartments with two story bedrooms, and so much more.  We ended up with one that was quite boring in comparison, and I’m honestly struggling with how to make it feel like a beautiful, organized home.  However, what it lacked in beauty, it made up for in convenience.  This home includes 2 parking spots, including one INSIDE the building, an elevator (amazing how many places required me to climb several stories with a baby and stroller), and is a couple blocks from several gyms, grocery stores, and shops.  Here’s a little tour of it empty:

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Do you see the shelf above the door?  The entire apartment is midcentury architecture and has ledges below the ceiling.  I plan on putting books on the entry ledge to cover the wires.  I’m also considering painting the back of the doors, which are about 5 inches of thick metal.

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This is the end of the entry hallway that leads to the open dining/ family room.  The wood paneling is original to the apartment and matches the doors and baseboards throughout. I can picture this home super hip with the right Midcentury furniture; however, my furniture and design preference leans more traditional so it will be a challenge to meld my furnishings with the rest of the home.

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This is the living room/ dining room area.  It will also be the play space for Esme.  Do you see the ledge that goes around the room right under the ceiling level?  It drives me NUTS.  The ceilings are SO HIGH, but the ledge makes the ceilings feel much lower in person.  It also forces the curtains to be hung directly over the windows, which in turn makes the windows feel much smaller.  The left window is a door out to a balcony that expands the entire length of the apartment.  I’m excited to plant some flowers out there!

There are TWO full bathrooms in the apartment, which I’m extremely excited about!  We even have a bathtub!!! I’ve noticed a trend in America of people removing their bathtubs in favor of showers, and that trend has hit Italy as well.  I’ll never understand it, but finding a home with a large bathtub was difficult!  The guest bath (left) is fully tiled in lilac tiles, which I have mentioned here, and the master bathroom floor to ceiling pale blue.  Neither would have been my choice, but I’m excited for find some solutions to make them feel more “me.”

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Technically, it’s a four bedroom apartment with this being one “bedroom.”  The bright room to the back end of it is the laundry room.  We might keep the wardrobes in here and use it for storage, or we are considering turning it into a play space and overflow area for guests.  The other bedrooms are also small so I can’t decide which one I want to use as Esme’s nursery.

Both of these rooms use space really oddly.  Why did they build walls in front of windows?  Honestly, I saw this same issue is several homes we toured, and it never fails to perplex me.  The middle picture shows the slightly large bedroom that also has access to the attic for storage.  Additionally, it has a door to a small tiled “closet” (3rd picture) on the right (you can see the door to it in the middle picture if you squint).  This is the only room in the home with a closet.  Traditionally, Italian homes don’t have closets so this home comes with 6 armoires (none of which are my style so I’ll need to be creative with them too).

The master bedroom is tough to photograph since it’s quite small too, but it has a doorway out to the balcony.  The armoires are in the entry of the room, and I’m not sure how I’m going to make them work with my decor.  I absolutely LOVE wood (real wood), but I despise laminate made to look like wood.  Despise is a strong word, yet it’s so accurate.  I would have preferred just plain white laminate to the faux wood, but “you get what you get.”

*I didn’t share the kitchen since the landlord is installing a new kitchen about a month after we move in.  It will be a bit of a surprise for me since I was originally told it would be a white kitchen, but it appears to be faux wood from more recent pictures shared by the landlord.  Either way, after living in a hotel I’m just thrilled to have a kitchen to prepare proper meals for my family.

I’d love any insight or ideas you can share to help me make this place feel like home to us!  I’m still torn on our decision to choose location over beauty, although I’m sure once we move in I will appreciate it much more.  It’s just so tough to find everything you want in a market with few rentals.  I’m so looking forward to moving day though!